Mountain States

Xcel Energy Acknowledges that Natural Gas is Vital for Future Energy Economy

Xcel Energy, the largest utility provider in Colorado, acknowledged this week that it will need to use natural gas to hit its zero-emissions goals by 2050. The disclosure comes just six months after Xcel announced its ambitious emissions reduction plan that Gov. Jared Polis touted in his effort to move the state purely to renewable energy over the next 25 years.

Xcel’s Plan For Zero Carbon Emissions

Minnesota-based Xcel announced in December its aim to slash carbon emissions for all of its electrical generation 80 percent by 2030 and then eliminate all emissions by 2050.

The company operates in eight states, including Colorado, where CEO Ben Fowke visited to tout the plan. He was joined at the event by Polis, who saw an ally in Xcel in his plan to drastically cut emissions.

Both Polis and Fowke talked up the future of innovation in the renewable sector as a key part of the plan to hit these emissions goals.

Polis said:

“There’s a number of efforts that we are talking to legislators about including making it easier to site renewable energy projects on public land, working for a pathway for rural electric co-ops to be able to embrace renewable energy. We want to raise the cap on solar gardens … and encourage those community-level investments in renewable energy.”

But developing those renewables is easier said than done. Fowke conceded that point by stating his company’s plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 is relying on technology that don’t yet exist.

Reality Sets In

Now Xcel has realized it can’t count on renewable technology to be created in the future as part of its long-term business plan. During a meeting with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, Fowke said:

“The grid can’t be 100 percent renewable. That last 20 percent [from 80 percent to 100 percent] has to be carbon-free, and it has to be dispatchable.”

This has forced Xcel to admit that natural gas is vital for hitting its goal of eliminating all carbon emissions. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the company’s position:

“Natural gas currently accounts for 12 percent of Xcel’s power generation in the Upper Midwest, while coal accounts for 30 percent and wind 18 percent. Xcel is counting on natural gas, which emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, to play an important role in supplying dispatchable power as the company exits coal and increases renewables production.”

This further underscores the role that natural gas plays in baseload energy – a constant, reliable power source when renewables can’t be accessed.

Natural Gas Plays Key Role in Colorado Power Generation

Xcel’s operations in Colorado align well with its need for natural gas as the industry plays a key role in powering the state’s economy.

Despite legislative attempts to squelch production growth, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission stated that it will continue to issue new drilling permits while the rules for SB 181 – which threatens to limit production — are written.

Additionally, the clean air benefits being realized from greater use of natural gas for power generation make a strong case for utilities like Xcel to make the switch. Bolstering that argument, a recent study from NOAA and CU Boulder found that methane emissions from natural gas have been greatly overestimated even as production continues to grow.

It is also worth noting that Colorado generates zero electricity from nuclear power – another needed energy source cited by Xcel to cut emissions. A lack of nuclear will place even more emphasis on the need for natural gas in the state.

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